"Train of Remembrance" – Deportations of Children and Adolescents during the Third Reich
Rudi Löwenstein, a boy from Cologne, Germany, had an entirely normal childhood. In the 1920's he attended the Catholic academic high school of the Church of the Apostles, spent his vacations in the rural Oberberg area near Cologne, and began a training program. On July 27, 1942 he was deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt by train, and was subsequently transferred to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Then all trace of him vanished.
Biographical DocumentsThe exhibition, Zug der Erinnerung (i.e. train of remembrance), a project aimed at preserving the memory of children deported during the Third Reich, displays letters, photos and other documentation of and about these children. More than 12,000 German boys and girls were deported by the National Socialists, and in almost all cases were killed. As many as 1.5 million children and adolescents were transported from the occupied countries of Europe.
Ignored by the PublicThe victims of deportation came from Jewish families, from Sinti and Roma families, or were children of opponents of National Socialism. "The ordeal of these young people has been largely ignored by the German public until now. We wish to retrieve these children from oblivion, bring them back into the present and give them back their dignity," says Hans-Rüdiger Minow, spokesman of the board of the nationwide citizens' association Zug der Erinnerung (i.e train of remembrance). The train consists of a steam engine and two railcars, and since November 2007 has been travelling to the train stations in Germany from which children were deported. The train was supposed to make its last stop at the Auschwitz Memorial in May, 2008.
Building Empathy"The exhibition is particularly directed at young people, who will recognize youngsters like themselves in the victims of NS deportations," says Hans-Rüdiger Minow. The exhibited documents are intended to make the deportations in Germany concrete and vivid to the viewer: the delivery of the notices of deportation, people putting their homes in order and then leaving them, the way to the detention camps, and from there through the villages and cities to the waiting trains -all in broad daylight. "This type of exhibition, the pictures of the still living, happy children and the knowledge of their cruel end moves the visitors deeply; they are horrified and cannot comprehend what happened,” is the way Hans-Rüdiger Minow, a historian and journalist, describes the visitors' reactions. ” In addition, we have the unusual location. Instead of displaying the exhibits in indoor rooms, the Zug der Erinnerung comes to the people and to the scene of the events," he says.
Renting the Railroad TracksAlmost all German railroads were involved in the process of deportation. The transit lines of the transports went through major German cities such as Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt am Main and Dresden. To reach these and approximately 40 other train stations, the citizens' initiative rented the necessary railroad tracks from the Deutsche Bahn's (i.e. the German railway company) network. The fees are about 3 Euros per kilometer. The costs arising here and for the exhibition as a whole, between 250,00 and 500,00 Euros, are being met by contributions.
Crimes UnatonedPerpetrators as well as victims are presented in the Zug der Erinnerung: from the Third Reich's Ministry of Transportation to the SS and finally to the logistics planners of the Reichsbahn (i.e. the Third Reich's railway authority). " These railway technicians, with their knowledge of what had happened, continued to work unchallenged in their area of specialty after 1945. Practically none of the perpetrators was ever required to give an account of himself. They continued to work unpunished in the ministries and police stations, in the upper management levels of the Deutsche Bahn and in the switch towers," states Hans-Rüdiger Minow.
A third part of the exhibition is still empty. The results of research done by schools and other organizations will be displayed there. These organizations have been asked to trace the fates of deported children and to make the materials and information they discovered accessible to the public.
A Warning Against Racism"When the train arrives in Auschwitz on May 8, 2008, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, thousands of Germans will have thought about the deported children, and I hope that particularly young people will gain a sense of what racism and anti-Semitism lead to.” Thus Hans-Rüdiger Minow summarizes the project's goals.
Thanks to donations and non-party support by NGOs the citizens‘ initiative was able to continue the train’s journey in winter 2008/2009 after its return to Germany. The travelling exhibition was shown in an extended verision. In winter 2009/2010, too, the train of remenbrance will be touring Germany.
completed his university studies in history and German language and culture in Cologne. He has worked as a public relations editor, press speaker, and since 2000 as a free-lance journalist.
Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
December 2007, updated in October 2009
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